From the North to the South to the East to the West

Oct 11, 2021

וַיהֹוָה אָמַר אֶל־אַבְרָם אַחֲרֵי הִפָּרֶד־לוֹט מֵעִמּוֹ שָׂא נָא עֵינֶיךָ וּרְאֵה מִן־הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר־אַתָּה שָׁם צָפֹנָה וָנֶגְבָּה וָקֵדְמָה וָיָמָּה׃

And Hashem said to Avram, after Lot had parted from him, “Raise your eyes and look out from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west,

Genesis 13:14

כִּי אֶת־כָּל־הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר־אַתָּה רֹאֶה לְךָ אֶתְּנֶנָּה וּלְזַרְעֲךָ עַד־עוֹלָם׃

for I give all the land that you see to you and your offspring forever.

Genesis 13:15

Once Abraham arrives in the Land of Israel, there are many descriptions about the geography of the land, as if God has to familiarize and orient our Patriarch to his new surroundings.

In ancient times, one was oriented by the rising sun – which is in fact where the word comes from since the sun emerges first from the east, the Orient. In Hebrew, the word for east Kedem means ‘forward’ or ‘front’ and the west is either referred to as yam, meaning ‘sea’ or achor, meaning ‘back’ hence the Mediterranean Sea is known as Yam Ha’acharon, the sea to the rear. Accordingly, south is referred to as teiman, meaning to the ‘right’ whereas north is called smol, meaning to the ‘left’, as in the description of Abraham’s pursuit of the five kings in Genesis 14:15, “and he pursued them until Hova which was to the left (north) of Damascus.” 

It is therefore interesting and significant that Hashem changes the orientation in Genesis 13:14. After Abraham and Lot part ways, God tells our forefather, to “lift up your eyes and look from the place you are to the north, south, east and west.” Why doesn’t the Torah use the common orientation here of first east to west and only then, north to south?

Clearly, here God is not orienting Abraham, but blessing him. In verse 15, God continues and tells Abraham to look as far as the eye can see, “for all the land that you see I will give to you and your descendants forever.”

Watch as Abraham himself explains the significance of the directions to The Israel Bible’s very own Rabbi Tuly Weisz:

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